Indonesian sustainable village project wins grand prize at social enterprise forum in Taiwan

Taiwan News spoke with the winning organization Bandung Creative City Forum

Team members at the Cigondewah Fashion Village Lab project. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

Team members at the Cigondewah Fashion Village Lab project. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The unique approach of addressing civil society issues with design ingenuity won an Indonesian social enterprise organization the Grand Jury prize at this year’s Asia Pacific Social Enterprise Summit (APSES) in Kaohsiung.

Cigondewah Fashion Village Lab, devised by Bandung Creative City Forum, took home the summit’s top prize, along with a separate Social Progress award. The lab is a “closed-loop creative economy ecosystem for the fashion industry” that aims to generate a sustainable economy and living environment for people that are currently heavily dependent on textile factory outputs.

Taiwan News on Saturday (May 11) spoke to Adi Panuntun, one of the forum members spearheading the Lab. He discussed the heart of the initiative and where he hopes it will lead in the future.

Cigondewah prior to renovations. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

Cigondewah Village is a distribution center for major international brands that include Nike and H&M, Panuntun said. The individuals that live and work there are former rice farmers who now depend on textile factories to drive the local economy.

The region around Bandung is an important hub of the Indonesian fashion industry, he added, but its rapid development over the past 40 years has had dire consequences for the environment.

“Bandung’s rivers have become polluted due to poor waste management, but business has been good, so businessmen are creating more and more problems and completely ignoring them.”

A polluted river of factory wastewater running through the village. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

The Bandung Creative City Forum, for which he works, has been attempting to address such problems through the mode of design since 2008. In prior years, it used smart design to complete small-scale sustainable housing developments for factory workers in other areas.

“At Bandung City Forum, we implement design thinking into what is called ‘urban acupuncture.' We see our city has many problems and we use a design approach to make small-scale interventions to address them–one of which is the Cigondewah project.”

Cigondewah Fashion Village Lab is a community-based circular production network that aims to reintegrate the textile industry, on which locals depend, with a traditional, agricultural lifestyle for the betterment of the people. It comprises a mother factory, housing for the local population, a “shophouse” (which contains a business cooperative and educational facilities), and an expansive green space for the cultivation of raw materials.

“The idea is to bring back the lifestyle of the people who have lived there for centuries, but also maintain the textile business that helps solve economic problems, while ensuring the operation adheres to the principles of sustainable living. We have tried to create a solution to bring these three things together.”

A community-painted mural inspired by the colors of textile waste. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

Because the project’s success relies on intergenerational cooperation, the City Forum has ensured the Fashion Village Lab contains a center for sustainable education and training, Panuntun said. It is a space that connects the tailors, print workers, sellers, transporters and businesspeople living within the village, and acts as a gallery of local products for buyers visiting Cigondewah.

Cloth, dyes and building materials for houses are all grown in “the garden,” he said. The garden’s produce not only sustains the village, but is also sold on so that the village economy can expand and diversify away from reliance on the factory.

Panuntun said the new ecosystem also helps address problems of gender disparity. Women, who would traditionally remain at home, are now joining the cooperative and realizing they can be more productive, he said.

“They are understanding they can take on a variety of roles in the project.”

Poor infrastructure in Cigondewah meant piles of trash would accumulate on the streets. (Photo: Bandung Creative City Forum)

Panuntun stressed that offcuts and other waste factory materials that would previously end up as refuse are now recycled into profitable products. The process has helped spark the entrepreneurial spirit of the local people, he said.

City Forum members are working to empower people to think creatively, he added, and devise ways to reuse “un-useful fabric” to make more fashion products.

“What we are doing is connecting all the people in the village, encouraging them to work in synergy, and helping build awareness of the perspectives of sustainable living and the green environment.

“We want them to see that life should not always depend on work inside factories, so we try to influence them with new perspectives. The purpose is not to kill the business of the factories, but to support them while raising the quality of life for the people.”

The village’s electricity is still largely provided by the main power grid, although this is something Panuntun hopes will change in the future. He said the City Forum has experimented with using solar panels in the past, but high investment costs and space restrictions made their implementation difficult.

“Indonesia is very exposed to sun, it’s a good way to collect energy. If the solar energy batteries become cheaper, it will solve the problem. We only use electricity for lighting in homes, and LEDs do not consume a lot. Some of the sewing machines in the factory are still manual.

“We are looking for investors, local and international, as well as government funding to help the project along.”

The Kaohsiung summit is the second international connection the Bandung City Forum has made, following the relationship it established with Dutch architects and researchers who helped bring the Fashion Lab to life. Panuntun said he hopes the prizes his organization won will draw the attention of local and international investors to eventually help the village realize its mission of becoming 100 percent self-sustainable.

More information about Cigondewah Fashion Village Lab is available on its website and Facebook page.

Adi Panuntun. (Taiwan News image)